Steve Lord

Director, homeland security and justice issues, General Accountability Office; transitioning to position as GAO director of forensic audits and investigative service

Best known for: For five years, Lord has been focusing a critical eye on airport security systems and machinery. As a congressional watchdog over federal programs, he has helped evaluate multimillion-dollar passenger, baggage and air-cargo screening programs run by the Transportation Security Administration, including the canine teams that search for explosives at airports. He has been involved in security investigations that raised questions about many issues: whether the TSA’s behavior-detection program was based on reliable science that could be applied on a large scale at airports; whether the TSA should better vet foreign nationals getting U.S. flight-school training to operate aircraft; whether vulnerabilities exploited by the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers were fully addressed; and whether the TSA’s 800 body scanners were effective and fully utilized.

The body-scanner investigation thrust Lord and his team’s work into the public eye almost daily after President Obama pushed to deploy scanners at airports and the debate raged over whether the scanners would have caught a passenger on a Detroit-bound jetliner who allegedly tried to set off explosives hidden in his underwear. The TSA spends billions of dollars a year, so it is critical that GAO, Congress’s investigative arm, oversees how effectively the agency runs its programs, Lord said.

“The agency plays a critical role keeping airplanes secure and finding terrorists. It’s up to GAO to find if the money is well spent and, if there are gaps, where do they exist,” he said.

Government work: Lord has been at GAO since 1983, when he started as an intern. He served a stint in Germany as part of a GAO international affairs team. He became an assistant director in 1998, an acting director in 2007, and in December was appointed director of GAO’s forensic audits and investigative service team. He is transitioning to his new job now.

Motivation for service: Lord’s father, who worked as a CIA case officer for more than 30 years, inspired Lord’s interest in public service. He was a good role model with a strong work ethic, Lord said, who stressed “doing the right thing” and telling people what they needed to hear instead of what they wanted to hear.

Biggest challenge: Sometimes Lord’s Capitol Hill clients are impatient and want him to deliver findings quickly. But fact-based analysis, data collection and surveys can’t be rushed, he said. Also, sometimes agencies balk at handing over data or information.

Quote: “Working at GAO is very rewarding, as you help determine whether government programs are meeting their goals, which helps instill greater public confidence in government. We do very careful, fact-based analysis in a political arena.”

— From the Partnership
for Public Service

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